Monday 28 November 2016

Ring Video Doorbell Review

As part of my Black Friday shopping I ordered the Ring Video Doorbell. I've been intrigued by the device for some time, and the claims of it helping to reduce break & enter instances had my attention.

I installed it last night and here is the experience:

Because I didn't have an existing wired doorbell I needed to charge the unit using a micro-USB cable. Even using the more powerful charger from my old Samsung phone it took about 5.5hrs to fully charge. Ring claims I'll need to do this 1-2 times per year, and the app will notify me when power is getting low.

At this point I used the app to join the Ring doorbell to my wifi.

Next was the physical installation. This part was a breeze, Ring includes almost everything you need right in the box including a screwdriver, drill bit, and level. The Ring app guides you through the install process with a well done and easy to follow video.

It took about 5 minutes to install the unit and then I was on to configuration.

From the app you can invite other people to have access, so I added my wife's email address and Ring sent her an email with instructions for getting set up on her phone.

Next I found you can adjust the motion sensor settings inside the app. By default it will trigger on movement up to 50 feet away.

That would likely have it chiming every time a car drove down the street, so I decreased the sensor to something a little more reasonable. The interface uses an intuitive drag line to adjust sensitivity, no complicated learning curve there.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn Ring will work with the Wink home automation hub. You can program robots to automatically do things when the motion sensor goes off, the doorbell is pressed, or both.

I've got it firing some actions now if the doorbell is pressed between sundown and sunrise, and the Wink automatically adjusts sunset/sunrise for the time of year so I'll never have to tweak those settings.

Literally as I was writing this review from my office I got my first real use out of the Ring doorbell and it was a great experience.

2 men rang the bell. The app on my phone chimed and as I opened it I had full audio and 720p quality video of the guys. I asked them who they were, they said they wanted to talk to me.

I asked who they were again and they claimed to be students, which I found odd as they appeared to be in their 40's.

They claimed they were doing a bible competition and wanted to talk. At this point I indicated I wasn't interested, and was able to watch them leave my property.

The entire exchange was immediately available on my phone to replay or email, which would be incredibly useful if I needed to forward it to the police.

After seeing the Ring doorbell in action I'm a fan. I love that I can see and talk to anyone at my door even if I'm not home, and that it captures audio and video automatically.

Is it a necessity? Absolutely not. But if you're in to home automation it's a very handy device that can also give you some extra peace of mind.

Happy surfing!

-The Home Geek

Sunday 27 November 2016

Online Privacy Suffers Major Blow

If you go online you're probably aware that some of your activity may be monitored by your employer, but what about your government?

Traditionally some form of oversight was required to keep a cyber-eye on citizens.

That's not the case in the UK any longer. The Investigatory Powers Bill was passed by Parliament this month after over a year of debate and amendments.

The bill gives multiple government organizations, including police, food regulators, fire officials, and tax inspectors the authority to review the web activities of everyone in the country.

Internet Service Providers will be required to keep copies for a year of every website someone visits, as well as every app they use, all for review at the discretion of the government agencies.

What's even more troubling is this may set a precedent other countries try to follow.

It's a massive blow to personal privacy, but there is something UK citizens can do about it, and you can too.

Use a VPN.

A VPN (Virtual Private Network) creates an encrypted tunnel between you and the VPN provider's servers. All traffic between you and the provider appears as gibberish to regulators.

In this case I'd suggest UK citizens buy VPN services from companies located outside the UK. Some European countries have very strict privacy laws, severely reducing the likelihood that any information will ever be successfully requested from the VPN provider.

What's more, the good VPN providers refuse to keep logs of pretty much everything, saying they can't be compelled to turn over information to authorities that they don't posses.

Using a VPN is often a good idea, although you will feel a slight performance hit on your speed as a result. All your traffic would be routed through the VPN provider, so instead of going from your desktop to your ISP, then to the internet, it could go from your desktop to a server in Sweden, then to the internet.

A little slower, but no one will be easily tracing anything back to you.

If this interests you look around, there are deals to be had right now. Nord VPN (regarded as one of the best VPN providers around) is having a 75% off sale, you can buy a 2yr subscription for $72.

VPN's may not be for everyone, you may feel you don't care if Big Brother watches your every online move.

Personally I find the Investigatory Powers Bill troubling, and if a similar piece of legislature was introduced here I'd be rushing to sign up for a VPN.

At least readers of this blog will know they have a choice.

Happy surfing!

-The Home Geek

Saturday 26 November 2016

Black Friday / Cyber Monday Deals

It's one of the best weekends for online shopping, and has some great items on sale that are worth mentioning.

If you've been considering  an Amazon FireTV now is the time. The 4K capable FireTV is on sale for $74.99USD. If you still have a first generation FireTV you won't be able to run Kodi's next release (Version 17) on it, as the Android OS on first-gen FireTV's isn't compatible. I've written about the FireTV in the past, it's a great device and by installing Kodi you can watch all the major television shows & movies without needing cable, commercial free.

The FireTV stick is a more portable (and less powerful) option to the full FireTV.  You can still load Kodi on the FireTV stick, but the memory and processing power isn't going to be the same as the FireTV. Still, if you're looking for a low-cost way to try Kodi the FireTV stick may be for you. The FireTV Stick is on sale for $29.99, a 25% saving on the regular price.

The Amazon Echo Dot is on sale for $39.99USD, a savings of 20%. This cool little device is a great way to have Alexa enter your home without having to pay for the full Echo device.

The Dot will connect to existing stereo or bluetooth speakers either using a 3.5mm headphone jack, or over Bluetooth. I've been eyeing the Dot for a while now and will probably order it today.

The Amazon Echo is also on sale for $139.99 (regularly $179.99). The Echo does everything the Echo Dot does, but it also has substantial sound built in to it, making it a great option for the kitchen or anywhere else you might want to listen to music.

It's fully integrated with Alexa, Amazon's cloud-based voice assistant. You can ask Alexa to call you an Uber, read you the news, give you a recipe for dinner, or a growing number of other things.

I like the fact that Alexa can work with my Wink home automation hub, so I can ask Alexa to dim the lights or turn up the heat. I'm on the fence about ordering the Echo only because I live in Canada, so I can't easily return it. If I was in the US it would probably already be in my kitchen.

With all these devices you're going to want to make sure you have good WiFi through your home. The Luma mesh WiFi 3-pack is on sale right now for $295.99, a 26% discount off the regular $399.99 cost.

I've written about Luma before, I use this system personally and recommend it to friends.  The folks at Luma are always seeking customer suggestions, and adding features & functionality.

A big difference with Luma is the customer support. Luma does it right, they have invested in a strong team, ensuring any challenges you have are easily resolved. The system you buy continues to be enhanced long after you get it home, making it a better value as time goes on.

With their focus on performance and online security you not only get great speed but it offers extra peace of mind on your protection level from many internet threats.

There are a whole host of other deals on right now through Cyber-Monday. (I'm seeing laptops with decent specs for under $350 on so if you've been thinking about upgrading or just getting a new laptop for the kids it's definitely worth a look.

Don't forget Black Friday/Cyber Monday deals extend beyond technology. Last night we found The Gap had everything listed for 50% off, and you also get 50% of your purchase value back in "Gap Dollars". Assuming you're going to buy something from The Gap in the future it makes a compelling case for ordering now.

Whatever you're looking for this weekend good luck in your shopping.

Did you find a great deal everyone should know about? Mention them in the comments section and share your finds!

Happy surfing!

-The Home Geek

Monday 7 November 2016

Cleanup Your Android Phone with Systweak

One of the great things about Android smartphones is the massive app library available . Between apps not available on other platforms (like Tasker), and a huge amount of free apps there's almost nothing you can't get your phone to do.

The downside of smartphones in general and Android in this case is they often come with bloatware pre-installed from your carrier.

Bloatware is software installed before you got the phone that you probably don't want. In many cases bloatware won't let you uninstall it, eating up resources on your phone needlessly.

But you can do something about it.

Systweak Android Cleaner will not only help free up memory and clean junk files, but it will let you uninstall apps, including bloatware.

I hadn't been able to uninstall BBM on my phone and it annoyed me. BBM's a largely useless platform these days, there are far superior cross-platform messaging apps, so why would I want BBM eating up space on my phone?

Once I installed Systweak Android Cleaner getting rid of BBM was fast and easy.

There are free and paid versions of Systweak Android Cleaner. I found the free version did everything I wanted without excessive nag screens or limitations.

If you're using Android and have bloatware you'd like to clean off your phone I suggest you give Systweak Android Cleaner a try. You paid for your smartphone, so why should your carrier get to decide what apps take up space on it?

It's free and fast, what's not to like?

Happy surfing!

-The Home Geek

Saturday 5 November 2016

Creating Strong Passwords in Linux

Linux is an amazing Operating System, far more mature than Windows, faster, and more secure.

These days it also has a great graphical interface to help users get around if they are used to Windows or Mac.

I set my laptop to dual-boot between Windows 10 and Linux, and found that I almost never go in to Windows any more. I just can't take how much slower it is by comparison.

Beyond better security and stability, Linux also boasts an absolutely huge free software library, letting you do almost everything you'd normally pay to do in Windows without reaching for your wallet.

One of the handy things Linux can do for you is generate really strong passwords for you to use with different websites.

Using a unique password for each website is a must these days. We've seen breaches of big companies like Yahoo, LinkedIn, DropBox and others where passwords were stolen and no one realized it until years later.

So how can Linux create secure passwords for you? There are a many ways, I'll focus on the easiest two. Both require you using the terminal, a command-line interface that scares some people but shouldn't, it's just a fast place to get things done.

First let's try Pwgen. As the name suggests it's an app for generating passwords. Open a terminal window by either pressing [CTRL]+[ALT]+ T or by browsing to the terminal app with your mouse.

If you are using Ubuntu Linux type this command: sudo apt -get install pwgen

In rpm-based versions (Like Redhat) type: sudo yum install pwgen

Once you enter your admin password the app will install. Now we are ready to make passwords.

From the command line type: pwgen 12 1

This will create a single 12 character password. To make it even stronger let's add instructions to include uppercase, numbers, and special characters.

Type: pwgen 12 1 -c -n -y

This will create a single 12 character password including uppercase, lowercase, numbers, and special characters. Because it's completely random it'll be incredibly hard to hack. If you wanted a longer password change the 12 to 14 and it will create 14 character passwords.

There is another option for creating strong passwords, use GPG. GPG is included in your Linux distribution by default, and is really powerful.

To create a password using GPG open a terminal window and type: gpg --gen-random --armor 1 14

GPG will generate a password like  re+hwm7bF9lWyxEEFqI=

Not too likely anyone will hack that.

Of course with all these passwords being so complex you'll need to use a good password manager. Lastpass gets great reviews if you don't mind paying for an annual subscription.

If free is more your speed I suggest using Encryptr. It syncs the passwords across all your devices (encrypted of course) and can run on Linux, Mac, Windows, and Android.

Passwords are your first line of defense, and many people get hacked because they can't be bothered to use strong ones. While it can result in some interesting celebrity photos being posted online it's entirely avoidable.

Happy surfing!

-The Home Geek

Use with Exodus on Kodi

Kodi is a fantastic home media system, and makes the decision to cut your cable much easier. Using Exodus with Kodi gives you access to pretty much every TV show and movie ever made for free, and with all the commercials edited out.

One of the complaints people have with Exodus is if they have more than one device the lists of things to watch doesn't sync.

Fortunately there is an easy way to take care of this problem. Head over to and sign up for a free account. Trakt is a service that will let you sync your watch lists to multiple devices.

When you log in to Trakt the menu bar at the top offers several choices.

To start with let's choose some TV shows. Click on the TV link on the left. You'll be taken to a screen with a list of many programs rated by popularity. For this example we'll assume you want to watch "The Big Bang Theory".

There are 3 icons below the picture of the show, click on the third one that looks like a list and select "Watchlist" from the pop-up menu.

Repeat this step for all shows you want to add to your regular viewing selections.

Don't worry if you don't see all the shows you want to add. If you scroll to the bottom of the page there is a search box, just type in the name of
the shows you want to add and repeat the "Add to watchlist" process for each show.

You can also use this process to add movies to your watchlist collection. Exodus is smart enough to maintain separate watchlists for movies and TV shows so it wont get too confusing.

You can create other lists for convenience. In my case I created a "Kids list" that contains all the shows my kids like to watch so I can find them quickly.

Once you have added all the tv shows and movies you want it's time to tell Exodus to use to sync your lists.

Open Exodus and do the following:
  • Select Tools
  • Select SETTINGS: Accounts
  • Select Trakt > Authorization...
  • You will get a popup asking you to visit a Trakt URL and input a PIN
  • From a computer, tablet, or smartphone log in to your account, enter the PIN, and choose "authorize Trakt"
  • You're done! Exodus will now use Trakt in the My Movies/My TV Shows section
You'll see "My Watchlist" entries in the My Movies/My TV Shows area. Clicking on that will open the list(s) you set up in

Repeat the process on any other devices you're running Exodus on.

Using is a really fast and easy way to set up your lists of shows you want to watch, and best of all it's free.

Trakt is really handy when you decide to upgrade your streaming box, no more manually having to recreate all your program lists once you plug in your new hardware, everything just follows you to the new device.

Now you can use the money you're saving by canceling your cable subscription to buy a bigger TV or a second device to run Kodi.

Happy surfing!

-The Home Geek